By Caleb Kaltenbach
I triple-dog dare ya!
Randy . . . show me how the piggies eat.
Fra-GEE-leh. It must be Italian!
You’ll shoot your eye out!
If you randomly heard any of those quotes, you’d probably know the movie they come from. I mean, who doesn’t love A Christmas Story? I’m sure there are a few lost souls who don’t, but it’s a Christmas favorite for many of us. With a creative soundtrack, solid acting, and a nice plot, it puts us in the “Christmas mood.” Also, who didn’t want an “official Red Ryder, carbine-action, 200-shot, Range Model air rifle” after seeing the movie? And let us never forget the movie’s valuable life lessons:
- Do not press your tongue against a pole on a cold winter day.
- Think twice before wearing winter coats that won’t let you put your arms down.
- Use caution when ordering Little Orphan Annie’s decoder devices.
- Not every lamp is suitable for the front window.
- Soap in the mouth causes blindness.
- You can hide under the sink.
- Beware of the Bumpuses’ dogs.
When I was growing up, my dad watched the movie repeatedly as Christmas Day approached. I always wondered why he loved the movie so much. Maybe he appreciated the movie’s mythical setting (Hohman, Indiana) because he lived in the Midwest. My dad grew up close to the movie’s decade (late 1930s to early 1940s), so perhaps he understood the cultural references. Maybe he liked how the movie ended.
To this day, I still wonder why this movie has developed a “cult following.” Let’s be honest, it isn’t a total “feel-good movie” and doesn’t shy away from life’s problems. The dad has a temper, invents new four-letter-words, and seems uninvolved or unaware of his family’s needs; the mom is the family’s moral compass; Ralphie gets bullied, and his friends can be jerks; no extended family or friends visit the family; and their house gets trashed on Christmas Day. Despite these problems, most people still love this movie. Again . . . why? Recently, I realized a new reason why I’ve connected with A Christmas Story:
By the end of the movie, Ralphie felt he had been heard.
Is No One Listening?
Think about it. Throughout the movie, Ralphie tells everyone about the air rifle he wanted. He goes to great lengths to broadcast it—hiding an air rifle advertisement in his mom’s magazine, writing about the air rifle in his class essay, waiting in a long line to see Santa, and even climbing up a slide to make sure Santa knows his Christmas wish. Whether it’s Ralphie’s dad, mom, teacher, or Santa, he’s ignored or told the now famous line, “You’ll shoot your eye out!” He even gets a “C+” on that school essay because his teacher didn’t like his air rifle wish. The kid just can’t catch a break! He probably felt like no one was listening to him.
On Christmas morning, Ralphie and Randy rip into their presents. To Ralphie’s dismay, the air rifle isn’t among his countless gifts under the tree. After opening the gifts, Ralphie reclines on the couch between his parents. He’s quiet and has resigned himself to not getting an air rifle. His dad then leans forward on the couch and tells Ralphie to check out something hidden behind the desk in the living room. Ralphie investigates, discovers one final present, and unwraps his Christmas wish—the air rifle!
As he was holding the air rifle for the first time, I wonder if he thought, Someone listened!
Unfortunately, Ralphie does shoot himself (under the eye), dogs eat the family’s Christmas turkey, and the family goes to a restaurant where the server decapitates their cooked Christmas duck in front of them. However, the movie concludes by showing a smiling Ralphie asleep in his bed while clutching the air rifle.
Ralphie felt heard. He received his Christmas wish.
The Vitality of Being Valued
This movie perhaps reminds us of that one special Christmas gift we asked for. Maybe we never received the present we really desired. But some of us opened our gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and—lo and behold—there was the gift we wanted.
Now, I’m not saying that if people don’t get their Christmas wish, no one listened to them. I asked for plenty of Christmas presents, and in hindsight, it’s probably good I didn’t find all of them under the tree. I know my parents listened to me, but because I didn’t receive the gift, I felt like I wasn’t heard. Here’s the deal, if we’ve been heard, then we feel validated, cared for, and valued. Listening to others is an investment in their dreams, hopes, and feelings.
This Christmas season, some around you are struggling through countless problems. In 2018, they’ve suffered the death of family and friends. In the preceding months, they’ve lost jobs and received bad health reports. Just as Ralphie wanted everyone to know about his Christmas wish, many people in your context are crying out for help. They need to know we’re listening. It can help them immeasurably to sit down with them, make eye contact, put aside our phones, refrain from giving unsolicited advice, and just acknowledge their frustration.
It feels good when people listen, right? But it feels amazing when people try to help. Are there ways we can help others besides listening? Can we pay a bill, bring a meal, take them out, provide Christmas gifts, become a friend, meet with them regularly for a season, visit someone in the hospital, or invite them to a Christmas service? How can we best add value to them? We do need to listen and try to help, but perhaps the greatest gift we could offer this Christmas is to help others feel like God hears them.
Does God Really Hear and Care?
God has always heard and valued people. Even when the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, he appeared to Moses and said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them” (Exodus 3:7, 8).
In A Christmas Story, Ralphie probably believed his dad wasn’t listening to his Christmas wish. Actually, his dad heard him and gave him what he wanted. The camera shows his dad’s expression—joyful, happy, beaming—as his son opens the gift he wanted. Similarly, even when sin wrecked humanity, our Father beamed with joy as he prepared to give his best gift ever—himself. In various ways, humanity cries out for wholeness, not knowing that God gave them a desire to be with him, as Ecclesiastes 3:11 says: “He has also set eternity in the human heart.”
God sent his Christmas gift—“when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son” (Galatians 4:4). Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph, to live a perfect life, present himself as a timeless crucified offering, and be resurrected to offer the gift of salvation to God’s glory.
On separate occasions, the angel Gabriel said as much to both Joseph and Mary: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32, 33).
In other words, Jesus is God’s way of saying that he hears, cares, and isn’t going anywhere. Regardless of the problem you or others are facing, the presence of Jesus always makes life better.
Loneliness, worthlessness, and other destructive emotions can be defeated when people feel that God hears them and have the hope of Jesus’ uncle Zechariah: “Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace” (Luke 1:78, 79, New Living Translation).
This Christmas, let’s ditch the pink bunny pajamas, drink another cup of Ovaltine, and watch A Christmas Story for the umpteenth time. But as we are afforded the opportunity, may we listen to those around us. May we show them that God cares for them not only by the words we say, but how we help them and make them feel. If people feel that God does hear their pain, is active in their lives, and has resolved their greatest need, lives will change.
Caleb Kaltenbach is a pastor and the author of Messy Grace and God of Tomorrow. He leads the Messy Grace Group, which helps churches, organizations, and schools to love and engage society in grace and truth.